NYC Faces Dilemma Over Streets Named After Famous Figures Who Owned Slaves

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Nostrand Avenue. Stuyvesant Avenue. Cortelyou Road. All well-known and well-traveled streets in Brooklyn many have walked down or driven on without giving them a second thought.

Each of those streets has something in common: They are all named after famous New Yorkers.

And what did all those historical figures have in common? They were all slave-owners.

Now, one group is on a mission to draw attention to those little-known connections. The project is called "The Slavers of New York," formed by a trio who walks the streets of Brooklyn putting up stickers on streets they said are named after families with ties to slavery.

"I want it to look official so people kind of double-take or look closer. No politicizing, let's just put a fact that we know is that this family owned this many people, during this time period," said Elsa Eli, one of the three who came up with the idea.

She said their plan started after they came across old census data while at home during the pandemic.

The group began compiling research, and soon after began making stickers — with their goal being to educate the public.

"It looks just like a regular census document — it has this person and their last name, how many people in the household, males, females, children. And the very last line is the number of slaves," Waithe said.

"Historians have done this work, census info exists. This isn't new information, but a lot of people aren't aware of it. We need to get this information out to people, I think it's important," said Maria Robles.

The group estimates they've put up close to 1,500 informative stickers at this point. While they said the response has been mostly positive, it's not without its critics. But they hope their efforts help get the public to stop and think about matters like these, just for a second.

"We're not one side or another, or whether we should change names or not. The mission of Slavers of New York is essentially a guerilla education project, we just want to educate the public, to give people the facts," Waithe said.

For now, the trio's efforts are focused just in Brooklyn, but they said they have plans to expand to all five boroughs.

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